Sunday, October 2, 2011

The "Other side" of Spiritual Advancement Week

My Bethany friends,

We are now on the “other side” of Spiritual Advancement. We are into the semester routine…and for many of us that might mean we have misplaced some of the realities we discovered just 10 short days ago. On this Sabbath, could we take just a few moments to reflect upon both the profound words that were shared and the effects in our lives of the movement of the Spirit in our midst. Question: Are you the same today as you were before Rev. Clint Ussher came to Bethany? Can you see yourself falling back into some of the same, possibly even more destructive habit patterns as before? May it not be so!


Think with me about John chapter 5. This passage depicts a beautiful story of Jesus’ care and compassion for the disabled of the world. But more than that, it’s a description of the wholeness that Jesus offers to all who hear His voice. Listen to the description of the event, “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie-- the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (ESV 5:2, 4)” Traditionally, as story is told, an angel would “stir up” the water in the pool and the first one to get in would be immediately healed. But the story goes on, “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’”


Now, you might think that the answer to Jesus’ question is obvious. I mean, the man is in the right place isn’t he? He’s here, near the temple, waiting for a miracle, his miracle. But in actuality, Jesus is not simply asking a question, He is holding a mirror up to the man. How could a paralyzed man be the first to get in the pool? And he has been going through the same quasi-hopeful routine for 38 years. Maybe, just maybe, he is comfortable with the situation that he knows.


But what in actuality is Jesus asking him? Several translations word it this way, “Do you want to be healed?” (ESV) or “Do you want to be made well?”(NKJ, NASB, NIV). Neither word choice gets at the heart of Jesus’ question. Listen to my translation of the unusual word, “Do you want to be made whole?” This word occurs 11 x’s in NT; 9 in Gospels (Matt. 12:13; 15:31; Mark 5:34; John 5:6, 9, 11, 14f; 7:23; Acts 4:10; Titus 2:8). Outside of our use in John 5, the most revealing is in the passage concerning the woman with the issue of blood. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”(Mark 5:34 NIV)


Now, to John, the question Jesus is asking the man by the pool (and us) is this, “Do you want me to free you from what is destroying you?” Now, hear me carefully when I say, it’s not just his physical condition which is eating away at him. The man may not realize it but its more so his lack of faith that there will ever be any remedy. Moreover, we get even more insight into the man’s spiritual dilemma after his healing when “Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well!” (FYI, “well” is the same word we discussed above but this time in the perfect tense; “See, you are restored to wholeness”). But then Jesus goes on and says, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you.’” Jesus explicitly states there are decisions that one can make which can return you to the same situation that you were in before Spiritual Advancement Week. Oh, please do not return but only go forward with the Presence of the Lord.


So, what will each of us do to keep from going back but rather to pursue Wholeness in our lives? First, “Align your lives with the means of grace God has put in your path.” For us here at Bethany, this is place before us every week.

  1. How about being transparent and utterly open before God and others with your life.
  2. How about the simplicity of reading a Psalm of Ascent (Psalm 121 for example) as you are walking to chapel. Prepare yourself for the meeting with God. Do not passively sit by the pool…but actively participate with Him. Expect to meet Him even before walking into the chapel.
  3. Make sure in the busy-ness of your schedule you set aside time for personal Bible study or to meet for public and private prayer. So many people are gathering for prayer walks or times of corporate prayer. Why not engage with them in a pursuit of the high-calling of Christ. Moreover, make D-Group not just another “check” on your Day-Timer but an opportunity to calibrate your spiritual compass in the direction of how God would like to fashion your Soul to look just like Him!


Second, one true shortcoming of many folks today who are trying to overcome spiritual shortcomings in their lives is that they attempt to remain in the grace of God all alone. Just like the man in John 5, “I have no one to put me into the pool for healing.” So why not intentionally align yourself with a spiritual mentor or guide, someone who is farther along the journey than yourself, and knows that wholeness can be attained because they live it before you each day.


Lord Jesus,

May Your wholeness be what we seek.

May Your Spirit guide us on this journey.

May Your Body here on earth assist each of us.

May Your Image be re-created within our hearts.

May the pleasure of Your voice be what we long for, “For you are my beloved child, in you I am well-pleased.”

May we never stop short of anything less.



Now, Go with God

Monday, May 9, 2011

Live in the "It-Is-Finished-ness" ... Graduation Address @ Bethany Bible College

Dr. H.C. Wilson, President Gorveatte, fellow members of the faculty and staff, distinguished friends and family, and most of all, to you students;
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
My task this morning is two fold. First, to be short. Today is about you, individually and as a faith community.
Second, my job to assist you in the beginning stages of the oft times difficult transition from the life of being a student to that of being a minister in the marketplace,
what ever that may look like, and
where ever it may be.
So again I repeat to you; Grace and peace.
May, "Well done good and faithful student" be your watchword and song this day.
Yet at the same time, each of you are riding the crest of a major life transition. You are leaving the "Oh-so-familiar" world of being student. Each semester you receive a lengthy syllabus for every class. Your faculty has predetermined all of your course assignments and their corresponding due dates. And as each of you know, the faculty spend countless hours strategizing on how to make all of your assignments and tests due at exactly the same day!
In the end, for the last 16-18 years, your life-decisions have been in the hands of another.
May I hear an "Amen" that this will no longer be the controlling force in your life?
From here on out, you will make all the decisions.
For example,
·      It will be up to you whether Chapel or its real-world equivalent, the Church will be the central spiritual focus of your week.  
·      It will be up to you to be proactive when it comes to your own spiritual growth. Will you make time to establish and personally invest in your own self-styled D-group? I pray that you will seek brothers and sisters in Christ to keep you accountable to the Scriptures and to live a vibrant life of faith
·      It will be up you if you ever pick up a book again, either for fun or to feed your soul so you can feed others.  
From here on out, you will make all the decisions.
Since your life will no longer be driven by a series of syllabi and assignments and due-dates; here is my question for this morning,
·      What will become the new driving force in the formation of your Day-Timer entries?
The reason I phrase the question this way is quite simple, what you invest your time in, is truly what you value.  
May I suggest a source for your decisions? Yes, of course you all would shout out "the Bible" and you would be correct. But I wanted to give you a special gift this morning of a place to turn that will give you the heartbeat of our Lord for making ministerial decisions.  The Scripture that you just heard read by Aisha, David, and Joshua is what biblical scholars call "Jesus' High Priestly Prayer." But this morning, they are wrong. Today, this is the prayer that Jesus prayed over the first class of graduates from His "School of Extreme Discipleship."
If you look carefully, John chapters 13-16 are what might be termed the "final classroom instruction" of Jesus. It is during these last few hours that Jesus prepares them for their lives of faith and ministry without Him as their teacher. Hummm, life without an incarnate instructor? Does that sound familiar to your situation in life?
Remember, in the first 12 chapters of John, Jesus teaches openly for all to hear; every kind of person in every imaginable public arena. Then in John 13, He initiates His private teaching to them beginning with an object lesson of love. The teacher washes the feet of His students. He sets the tone for all that will follow in the rest of His teaching with this humbling act of self-denial. And may I make a simple observation about this passage? In the first half of the Gospel of John Jesus has repeatedly said, "I only do what I have been shown by the Father." So, if I ask you where did Jesus learn to wash feet? The answer is simple, Jesus learned this from the Father. Thus, the act of foot-washing is not what the teacher does; it is precisely who He is.
As Jesus copies the life of the Father…May you copy exactly the same in your life and ministry. And, as a word of encouragement, there is no threat of plagiarism in copying Jesus word for word…and act for act. What an honor to reflect the Imago Dei; the image of God to a lost world with filthy feet.
It was how the Father served the Son. It was how the Son taught the disciples. Then Jesus instructed, "A new commandment I give to you, Love one another as I have loved you."
I now longer call you students, but friends. And "May a Basin and a Towel become ministry tools which allows the Lord to use you in demonstrating His love throughout the world."
We move from John 13 to John 17. Please notice how Jesus' teaching ends or I would argue, climaxes as Jesus prays. May I say that again; Jesus prays. At every major decision in Jesus' life, we find Him praying.
·      At his baptism.
·      At the selection of His disciples.
·      At His transfiguration.
·      At the Last Supper.
·      In the Garden of Gethsemane.
·      And most profoundly, On the Cross.
And in our passage this morning, His students overhear how He talks to His Heavenly Father about them. And, if you were listening closely, Jesus is also praying for His future students as He said; "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." In this prayer, each of you were interceded for by Jesus. Your first graduation prayer came from the very lips of Jesus Himself, nearly 2,000 years ago. He anticipated this day for you. He celebrates with you as well.
One commentator on John 17 says, What Jesus talks to the Father about could be called, "Listening in to the conversation at the very Center of the Universe." It's God talk, and Jesus continues as our teacher by allowing us to overhear.
The early church worded it this way, Lex OrandiLex Credendi.
Literally, the phrase means "the law of prayer [is] the law of belief."
Let me translate this into our contemporary language, simply put, "What you pray is what you believe."  The contents of our prayers are the very things that we value the most.  I call this term our 'lived-out theology.'
Thus, if I want to know what Jesus believed and practiced and valued, simply look at what He prayed; for that is His "lived-out theology."
Similarly, if I want to know what you value the highest; let me overhear you in prayer. Let me read your prayer journal.  What are the very things that you bring to the Father?
May I urge you (please allow me to employ the Pauline word), may I urge you to carefully select the matters which you pray for; for they are truly what you believe, what you desire for God Himself to do in and thru you.  
May I urge you to adopt John 17 as your new life-syllabus.
For, if this passage indeed verbalizes what was important to Jesus in His last hours on earth…
For, if it was indeed a conversation at the very center of the universe…
Would it not be a great starting point with which to fashion your own "lived-out theology." As I have studied and carefully moved through this passage I have found numerous core principles Jesus is teaching us regarding His "lived-out theology."
But, you do not need me to lead you thru John 17. For you have been trained to read and exegete scripture; you have had an almost unlimited number of opportunities to apply scripture personally and also to proclaim it from a pulpit…but would you allow me to simply to whet your appetite, let me give you one example of how this might be employed…then I will leave the rest up to you for your life-long learning.
Listen to the beginning of Jesus' prayer in John 17: "Father I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do."
May I urge you to live and minister within the "It-is-Finished-ness" of Christ. (Thank you Darrell Johnson for your book title)

The Greek word for "complete" is the verb  "teleiow" which is often translated as "finished." The initial words of Jesus' prayer are that He wants to bring God glory on earth by "finishing" His work. This prayer is of course a foreshadowing of Jesus' final cry from the Cross in John's Gospel, "It is finished."

Specifically, what is finished? This would include His work of reconciliation, of adoption, of sacrifice, of suffering, of abandonment, of forgiveness. For you as ministers, remember, Jesus is doing this work NOT you.

PLEASE listen to me carefully apply this text to your lives, this was His work.

This is so much more than an exegetical exercise.

For either we learn to live in the "it-is-finished-ness" or you will try to complete what you think or you feel is lacking in the work of God.

If the work that Jesus has completed actually brought Glory to God, should we tamper with it? Should we add to it? Or should me simply marvel in it? Hear me, IT IS Finished.

All of you graduates have completed your internship. And you know only too well that when you take all the cares of the world and the burden of ministry upon yourself; it is exhausting beyond belief. Hear me, IT IS Finished.


Everything that needs to be done in order for us as broken, sinful people to be re-created in His image and to enter into and enjoy life and ministry with the Living God has been finished.
Our task is to enter in. And to invite the world to come in as well; not to fix ourselves or them. That's the Work of God. Hear me, IT IS Finished.
What would a life be like that did not cause you to strive to constantly find the approval of others? Do you recall over the last 4 years the number of times you turned in a paper to a professor and then began to worry about what he/she would think of you when they read it? What would life be like, if you did not become overwhelmed with what people thought about you? Hear me, IT IS Finished
What would life be like, if you did not have to strive to please God? To prove your worthy-ness? Hear me, IT IS Finished.
Please, may I urge you to enter into the "It-is-Finished-ness" of Christ.
This is a "lived-out theology" worth living!
In the ensuing days, Post-graduation that is; I beg of you to sit at the feet of your flawless teacher Jesus. Begin in John 13. Allow Him to show you your ultimate worth as He humbly steps from the throne, picks up a basin and towel, and washes away the grime of sin and cleanses you.
Then, search John 17. Listen to what Jesus says to the Father. Listen in to the conversation at the Center of the Universe…so you can fashion your own "lived-out theology" not based upon convenience or creature comforts, but upon Kingdom values that are utterly time-less and God-breathed.
I no longer call you students, but friends.
This is the way Kingdom friends talk to one another. Welcome to ministry.